Fervent Prayer: Financial Commitment and Provision
" For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
2 Cor 8:13-15
Over the years there seems to have been two dominant theologies related to personal finances that have emerged in the church. The first is a ‘poverty theology’. Explained simply, it is the idea that people who are in poverty are somehow more holy or more spiritual then those who have wealth. That one of the marks and means of your spirituality is maintaining a place of poverty. It is true that the bible does seem to indicate that a life in poverty has the potential to teach us about the nature of Jesus. Bonnie Pattison in her book, Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin, describes Calvin’s view of the sanctifying work that is discovered when we live lives of Christ-like poverty. Calvin, she says, describes the life of the believer that “bears the cross” of poverty and affliction, which he calls the “mortification of the outward man”, as lives that are being consecrated by the life and death of Christ. That this humble life becomes an instrument of divine grace and blessing for the believer. Hardships create opportunities for the knowledge of God’s glory to be revealed to the believer, with adversity revealing God’s glory in a way that is otherwise concealed where humble living is absent. The experience of “bearing the cross” brings a knowledge of one’s own spiritual poverty which works to foster humility in the believer. There is no doubt that this state MAY provide a pathway to greater spiritual understanding but poverty in and of itself is NOT greater spirituality. The willingness to live in a state of poverty has the same potential for arrogant carnality that riches does.
The second dominate theology related to personal financial status is a ‘prosperity theology’. It is the belief that personal financial wealth reveals personal spiritual maturity. That the blessings of God manifest on the spiritual in the form of financial prosperity. If you are spiritual you will be wealthy and if you’re not wealthy you’re probably not spiritual. Although every believer should always acknowledge that all blessings are gifts from God toward us, there is nothing in scripture to indicate that financial prosperity follows spiritual maturity. In fact a cursory reading of scripture will show that some of the great giants of faith throughout scripture were living in a state far from what could be described as financial prosperity. Jesus Christ himself describes His situation on earth as ‘having no place to lay his head’ and literally needed a miracle to pay His taxes. For that matter he says ‘woe to those who are rich for you have already received your reward’. But even with that being said, being wealthy or receiving abundant financial blessings from God is not necessarily a mark of carnality. There were many great men and women of faith that God did bless with financial well being; it was how they chose to use that wealth that revealed their spiritual state.
You see there is a financial theology that properly frames both poverty and prosperity that not only addresses the tension between poverty and wealth we see in scripture but also properly focuses the eyes and heart of the follower of Jesus Christ.
If I were to identify what I believe the bible teaches as it relates to finances in the life of the believer I would say it is neither a theology of poverty or a theology of prosperity but a theology of need meeting. It is the belief that God meets our needs and we in turn meet the needs of others. Every time you see the topic of God’s provision for His people you see the word ‘needs’ associated with it. Whether it is in Christ’s encouragement in the Gospels to not chase after the basic provisions of the life because ‘your Father knows’ your needs and he will provide them or the encouragement in Philippians 4 where we are told that God will supply all our needs according to His riches. What you discover is that God is aware of our needs and willing and wanting to meet them. But in addition to the meeting of our needs (not wants) being met by God, throughout scripture we are called to meet the needs of others with our extra; your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need. This was the practice in the first century church where they were distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2 and Acts 4). And it’s not just the needs of the individual but it is the needs of the ministry of God’s church. Paul in Philippians 4 commended them for funding his ministry and throughout his teachings he emphasizes to the members of the church that duty to provide for the ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 5).
The reason I say that the theology of need meeting puts it all in proper perspective is because it removes the focus from ourselves and on to God and others. We do not become fixated on whether our spirituality is providing our blessing or whether our willingness to sacrifice means we’ve earned our righteousness. Both of these are mindsets that spring from and lead to spiritual arrogance. Instead, through a theology of need meeting, we are focused on God as gracious provider and on others as the recipients of our God inspired love. When we see the undeserved provision of God towards us our gratitude towards Him grows as does our desire to be generous toward others.
Dear God, the one who knows and provides all our needs, we come before you with open hands and open hearts. Please give to each one of us that which we need to grow in our knowledge of you. Help us to always turn our faces to you to receive and our faces towards others to give. By your Holy Spirit, may we learn the beauty of dependence on you and the beauty of generosity towards your church and your people. Amen.